Prostitution Ring Linked Vt., New York

ByABC News
February 5, 2001, 2:37 PM

Feb. 6, 2001 -- -- When 16-year-old Christal Jean Jones of Burlington, Vt., was found dead in a New York brothel, her body reportedly beaten and full of drugs, investigators knew they had a horrible story on their hands. The deeper they have gone, the uglier the story has become.

Authorities believe Jones, a troubled girl with a history of running away, was lured from her relatively bucolic surroundings by a prostitution ring that may have enticed numerous other girls from the area into an involuntary life of sex for pay.

Though the federal, state and local agencies handling the investigation have said little about the case, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said as many as nine girls from the Burlington area including one as young as 13 may have fallen victim.

The case has raised questions in Vermont about how the state handles runaways and other troubled teenagers, because it appears that all the girls who were lured to New York were in the custody of the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

It has also raised questions about whether Jones' death could have been prevented. The investigation into the ring began two months before she died and the man suspected of luring the girls to New York had been twice released by Vermont courts despite repeated violations of his parole on an assault conviction.

That man, Jose Rodriguez, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in the 1993 beating and robbery of a man in Burlington's City Hall Park. Rodriguez, who reportedly told police at the time he believed the victim was dead, admitted that he and another man beat their victim with a piece of cinder block and a wooden stake.

Rodriguez, 25, was arrested in the Bronx on Dec. 11, charged with promoting prostitution and statutory rape. His alleged victims were two other Vermont teenagers.

According to various accounts, the girls were lured from the foster homes and state-run shelters where they lived around Burlington by expressions of love and promises of $2,000.